What’s in a name? A branding challenge, perhaps, for Rise of the Guardians, the DreamWorks Animation film that got off to a slower-than-expected start this weekend. The film is part of a high-profile parade of fantasy and superhero projects that center on characters who call themselves “the Guardians” but, so far, none have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. To guard against confusion, here’s a who’s who guide to the Guardians Glut.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010): These Guardians are a noble group of warrior owls who uses their armor and talons to fight the feathered fascists called the Pure Ones. Director Zack Snyder (300, next year’s Man of Steel) ventured into animation for this $80 million adaptation of Kathryn Lasky’s bookshelf epic and hoped to map out a new Middle-Earth equivalent for middle-school moviegoers. The results were…middling. It laid an egg domestically (it ranked 61st among 2010 releases) but traveled well in foreign markets to finish with $141 million worldwide.
Guardians of the Universe from Green Lantern (2011): These Guardians are an ancient council of powerful, pint-sized aliens who, with their robes and profundity, seem like blue-faced Yodas or maybe the joyless space cousins of Papa Smurf. The mini-monks of Oa debuted in the pages DC Comics back in the summer of 1960 and, with their Green Lantern field agents, they have ventured into every corner of cosmos – but that didn’t prevent this tone-deaf $200 million project from getting lost in space. These Guardians may be seen again when Justice League looks for a cosmic stage big enough to handle DC’s united heroes.
Rise of the Guardians (now in theaters): These Guardians are a quartet of supernatural regents who not only protect the world’s children and pioneered the concept of overnight delivery: the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the ever-silent Sandman and the brawny Nicholas St. North, a.k.a. Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin). Based on the luminous books of William Joyce, the Dreamworks epic has been five years in the making but is still waiting to unwrap its potential; in post-screening surveys audiences gave the film a CinemaScore grade of “A” so word-of-mouth may yet write a happy ending.
Guardians of the Galaxy (August 2014): These Guardians are an intergalactic team of outsider souls that come in all shapes and sizes – there’s the sentient tree named Groot, for instance; the brawny, pistachio-colored Drax the Destroyer; and Rocket Raccoon, whose name pretty much says it all. The quirky project, which was a big announcement last summer at Comic-Con International, takes Marvel Studios and director James Gunn (Slither, Super) into unchartered space; the Guardians name has considerable heritage (a different version of the team debuted in 1969) but relatively little traction with most readers and none with average moviegoers.